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Taking action in higher education

'Enabling not disabling' - securing equality for disabled staff in colleges and universities

4 December 2006 | last updated: 14 December 2015

Groundbreaking new legal duties introduced today in England, Scotland and Wales could greatly improve the prospects of disabled people working or hoping to work in colleges and universities, says UCU.

Launching a new guide on the rights of disabled staff, UCU national official Roger Kline said: 'The lack of a disability-sensitive culture in many colleges and universities can make disabled staff less likely to take up training or seek promotion. This could explain the vast under-representation of disabled people in positions which they could occupy.

'Only around 2% of staff in universities and colleges declare themselves to be disabled in some way. The Disability Rights Commission says as much as 20% of the UK workforce consists of disabled people. We believe many college and university staff may be failing to declare their disability for fear of being stereotyped and wrongly considered unfit for demanding work.

'The new Equality Duty is a great breakthrough, and UCU is proposing practical things we can do in partnership with managers to ensure that every college and university has a welcoming, positive attitude towards disabled staff and students.'

UCU's guide 'Enabling not disabling' (created with the union's disabled members' group) informs members of the rights of disabled staff and contains a check-list so that the union's branches can see how their institutions measure up to their new obligations. Managements will be asked to make 'reasonable adjustments' to working environments and work patterns to suit disabled staff, and to examine recruitment practices such as short-listing so suitable disabled candidates are not excluded from consideration for positions they could fill.

The Disability Equality Duty requires public sector bodies, including colleges and universities to prevent and tackle disability discrimination and to actively promote equality for disabled people. Colleges and universities also have a duty to involve disabled people in developing good practice, and are advised to consult staff unions.

Two of the UCU disabled members' group commented:

Paul Brown, Director, Scottish Disability Team, University of Dundee, said: 'The duty is a landmark in disabled peoples' struggle for fully comprehensive and enforceable civil rights.'

Joel Petrie, lecturer, Liverpool Community college, said: 'An early draft of 'Enabling not disabling' was very positively received by senior management in my college and informed discussions around the development of its disability equality scheme.'